What you are about to read may seem incredibly banal and obvious — and it is, on one level. But everything exists on multiple levels. The most trivial aspects of your life, things you normally would not even deem worthy of mentioning, can be deeply revealing.
When you step aside from yourself a bit and look at the world with the eyes of someone who is not entangled in or attached to anything societal, and without the otherwise constant and compulsive conceptualizing and judging, you see things as they really are. You see how bizarrely out of place and irrelevant many of our activities are. You probably see it a bit the way young children do, before the veil is fully and properly pulled over their souls.
To constantly stay in such a state of mind is a zen master thing, but it is possible for most of us to remove ourselves from the societal matrix partly and for short periods of time, enough to get a glimpse of the absurdity of much of what we are doing.
These days, this absurdity is probably obvious to those who have looked closely into the erratic and often illogical pandemic policy. But those often comically detailed rules and regulations are in fact only a laughing mirror, so to speak, of an underlying absurdity that has been a dominant feature of our physical reality for millennia.
Recently I was out travelling. I flew to Amsterdam and stayed there for a few days. During the journey I managed to keep an unusually distanced view on the many little actions I took. It was clear to me how much of it was unnatural. I reflected upon all the physical restrictions and all the expressions of lack and limitation that we mostly take for granted.
First, there are the national borders. With the Schengen agreement, borders are less salient in Europe today than they used to be, but politicians seem to do what they can to reinstate them to some degree with various kinds of subterfuge, like a ”refugee crisis” or a pandemic.
Then there are the passport controls, the security controls, the random customs controls, the ticket checks and now also the covid QR code checks.
Then, of course, there is the whole money thing. Again, this is perhaps less obvious now than a couple of decades ago, as all payments are made with little plastic cards and one never actually sees an amount of physical documents with perceived value diminish (a shift that has all but freed us from armed robberies). But still, money constitutes one of the most brutal limitations that we have imposed on ourselves.
In my little study case, this limitation was apparent in the form of the VIP lounge I was not able to enter while waiting for the delayed flight, the division between first class seats and the rest, the only ”free” beverages on the plane being coffee and tea, the limited choice of means of transport from the airport, the limited choice of accommodation and the limited choice of food once I had arrived.
These are all completely trivial examples, but that is the point: we are so fully enveloped in these structures of unnatural limitations that we do not even see the bizarreness of them.
So, what is natural?
In philosophy, there is the idea of ”natural law”, which is considered to be above ”positive law”. The latter is defined as the rules of society (laws written by humans). Such societal rules are of course constantly subject to potential change. Positive law often focuses on details. After a few years or decades some of these details appear irrelevant, and they are deemed obsolete by new generations. They often hinge on various cultural ideas, which can last for centuries, or cultural hang-ups, which can shift on a decadal basis. As opposed to this, ”natural law” is seen as (more or less) constant, possibly derived from inherent perceptions and knowledge.
So, what perceptions are inherent, and what knowledge?
One would assume that not harming other humans or at least not killing others would be high on the list. But not so fast. There has been a fierce debate since at least the ancient Greeks about what ”natural law” should entail. Already the concept ”natural” stirs up discussions. Some theorize that perhaps many of the not so pleasant features in human life over the course of history are natural, like war, or slavery, or women’s subordination to men. Those things were in fact considered natural by several philosophers, from the ancient Greeks to Thomas Hobbes. Others, like Thomas Aquinas and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, instead concluded that it is intrinsic, thus natural, to feel compassion and to repel suffering. (A lengthy review of different views on ”natural law” during the last 3,000 years or so can be found here.)
It is a surprisingly contentious subject.
But it is hard to ignore what is in your innermost core. I know many materialists wouldn’t agree, but I suggest there is an innate sense of what is natural that ultimately cannot be dismissed, unless we are to accept a constant underlying feeling of dissatisfaction and suboptimization (which in fact many say is an unavoidable fact of life). Intuition does not go away.
Because of all the confusingly differing stances in mainstream philosophy you may perhaps feel discouraged to search inside you for what is natural. If so, you will have to rely on your thinking mind and positive law. Only that. Quite a few materialistically inclined intellectuals have ended up in that place, as you know.
This compels me (following Godwin’s law) to mention the Nazis. The Third Reich is often described as virtually lawless, but it is quite obvious that the Nazis constructed a vast amount of positive law, which was upheld by judges, lawyers, and civil servants trained in the law. So in what sense were they lawless? You guessed it.
After World War II the victors created the UN and pondered how to make sure the gruesomeness of the war never happened again. What they came up with was ”human rights” rather than ”natural rights”. But the question remains: from where do we derive those human rights? Are they only based on what seems rational to us, or do they emanate from a deeper, more ”natural” place?
Again: the intuitive sense of a natural way does not go away. Spiritually inclined people have no problem with that, and they understand what I am pointing at here. I do not intend to go deeply into the nonphysical aspects of us in this particular essay, however. I just want to lay a little foundation.
What, then, might have been considered natural during the little journey I made a few weeks ago? Basically this: I and my fellow travellers packed things in suitcases. We placed those suitcases along with our bodies in planes that flew us to a place where we wished to be. Once there, we placed ourselves in other means of transportation to reach buildings arranged for the purpose where we could stay. When we got hungry, we found rooms arranged for the purpose where we could eat. (I am not entering into a discussion about which means of transport are natural or not, which is a different topic — and a more superficial one, if you ask me.)
This was what we wanted to do, and this was also what happened in the real world. The restrictions that surround those kinds of activities have nothing to do with the real reality. They are matrix clutter. They are part of the gloomy three dimensional dream we have been dreaming for as long as we can remember.
As you may want to point out by now, our deviation from what feels natural goes beyond formal laws and regulations, of course. It entails that we erect all kinds of artificially constructed social, cultural and biological barriers.
In episode 73 of my podcast Mind the Shift I interview the mystic and writer Lars Muhl. When Lars was eight years old he told his mother, in earnest: ”This world is very primitive”. I think he was right. But perhaps not so much in what Lars emphasized in our conversation — our worship of technology and our unfortunate proclivity to mistreat the planet. Personally I have quite a bit of sympathy and room for a species that has come a long way but has not yet figured out exactly how to build a brilliant civilization without harming any living thing. We are moving in that direction, after all (although for every two steps forward we slip one step back).
No, what is truly primitive, and strikingly so in a civilization that has come this far technically and intellectually, is the lingering and ever more anachronistic restrictions and limitations imposed on the many by the few. We can send astronauts to the moon and probes to Mars, but we still lack basic trust in our fellow humans. How primitive is it not that decision makers assume we cannot take responsibility for our own health or decide where on the planet we would like to live and work?
Here is the thing: We do not need borders, money, authorities or formal educational structures. We need to do, feel and experience. To enhance the doing, the feeling and the experiencing we need inspirers and some skillful administrators.
Humans are wonderfully creative beings. We create our reality. For some reason most of us have forgotten that we do. We do it anyway, but we do not see it that way. We think we are dependent on factors outside of us, outside of our control. That is the gloomy dream we are dreaming. But in the real reality we love, meet, create and learn. That is all. And that is what has taken us from caves to spaceships.
Speaking of spaceships: When you think of advanced alien civilizations that might make contact with Earth in one way or another, do you then ask yourself: ”Oh, I wonder how they wage war and what kind of border control systems and what kind of payment systems they have”? My guess is no, you intuitively assume that if they have evolved far enough to be able to approach us from other star systems or even galaxies, probably by controlling gravity and/or shifting frequencies, they have left that kind of petty restrictions behind.
Fortunately, we do not have to wait for close encounters of the fifth kind to have such wisdom in our lives. Our children are the wise extraterrestrials among us. It is virtually certain that the eight-year-old Lars Muhl is not the only young child who has contemplated this world with bewilderment and found it, if not primitive, at least very, very strange. Why? Because young children still live their lives in close contact with their essence, which is the same in all of us. ”What is the bottom in you is the bottom also in others”, to quote the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf.
Think about it: If we were born as blank slates, it would not make any sense that young children are surprised (and they are, profoundly so) when they find out that they cannot straight away have things they like and that they cannot have things they like that ”belong” to other children. If we came into this world as some kind of biological robots, nothing we learned would appear strange, because we would not know of anything else, right? But as every parent knows, the concepts of delay and lack seem innately alien to young children.
The two-, three-, four-year-old children eventually learn to dismiss or suppress their surprise and disappointment, but when they grow a little older, they start asking questions. Very pertinent questions: ”Why can’t you go to that country, mom?” ”Why did my classmate have to go back to the country her family wanted to leave?” ”Why can’t you paint all day, dad, when that’s what you love doing the most?” ”Why can’t we go to the most beautiful beach for holidays when we all would love it?” ”Why doesn’t grandpa want to speak to grandma?” ”Why do they lock people up in prisons?”
When children ask that kind of questions, we adults should look them in the eyes and say: ”Never forget those questions. Never forget the confusion you feel about those things. I can give you an answer that most adults would give you, but it is not a wise answer, it is merely a description of ’how it is’. It should not be as it is. The way you feel it should be is more natural.”